Havana, Jan 25 (EFE).- It was just hours before the Cuban baseball league kick-off when news came out that Wilfredo Aroche, the star of the Industriales team, had left the country.
The 37-year-old, who played for over 10 seasons in Cuba, had left for Italy to renew his residency without notifying his team or local authorities.
Aroche said he had already played in Italy with the permission of the Cuban government, even though this is not always the case.
The star’s sudden departure is just one example of how Cuban baseball, the country’s national sport, is losing talent, with professionals like Aroche seeking better conditions elsewhere.
Another case was when in June last year, two players deserted their teams during pre-Olympic training in Florida, hoping to be selected in the United States Major League Baseball (MLB).
A few months later, in October, twelve players of the under-23s national baseball team dropped out of the Cuban league during the Junior World Cup in Mexico.
“I am sure that no country or sport has experienced what Cuban baseball has, in terms of exoduses,” author of the book El sueño y la realidad: historias de la emigración del béisbol cubano (1960-2018), Francys Romero, told Efe.
In 2014, the Cuban Baseball Federation (FCB) decided to allow athletes to play in foreign leagues, on the condition that the Cuban state keep a percentage of the profits.
One year later, a record 202 players left Cuba, according to Romero.
Cuban players leaving their country are increasingly younger and many are minors.
“The younger you leave the easier it is to move up the MLB. It is the perfect storm: talent drain and a closed regime, Cuban baseball is going through the worst moment in its history,” Jorge Ebro, a Cuban historian specializing in baseball, tells Efe.
As of January 18, a total of 15 Cubans had signed for US teams.
Seventeen year old outfielder Cristian Vaquero, who was acquired for almost $5 million to play for the Washington Nationals, was one of them.
The president of the World Baseball Softball Confederation, Riccardo Fraccari, said on a visit to Cuba in January that the organization was drawing up a plan to facilitate the departure of baseball players to foreign leagues.
Achieving a “legal basis for the protection of the athlete” is important and would return Cuba its baseball “shine,” Riccardo had said.
But experts are skeptical about this initiative.
“It’s pure blablabla, today baseball is one more victim of what is happening in the country,” Ebro says. EFE